Review Date: Friday, January 25, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has found lots of fun new comic books on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, so let's get right to reviewing four of them and see how they stack-up against each other:
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Rob Williams: Writer
Trevor Hairsine: Art
Antonio Fabela: Colors

     D.C. Comics has a new one-shot Madame Xanadu comic book on the current issues shelves.  For the uninitiated, the good Madame Xanadu has been a mystical soothsayer and magic practitioner since her DC universe debut back in the 1970's.  She began her life centuries ago as Nimue, younger sister to the evil Morgan LeFey of the Camelot legend.  One of my favorite versions of Madame Xanadu was the 2008-2011 Eisner-nominated title written by Matt Wagner with art by Amy Reeder Hadley, which nicely highlighted our heroine's life experiences from her Camelot days to the modern era.  These days, Madame Xanadu is a team player in DC's Justice League Dark title.  This new one-shot Madame X comic book is scripted by Rob Williams with art by Trevor Hairsine and colors by Antonio Fabela.

     The storyline is entitled "A Voodoo Zombie Mystery!" and presents a reinterpretation of the standard Madame Xanadu storyverse.  Here, she's the former Madame X who has fallen from grace and now lives in New Orleans as Nima, eking-out a living for a local law firm whose senior partner values utilizing her soothsaying powers for his client's cases.  Our story begins as a voodoo mystery; when a prominent city councilor is murdered, the law firm represents a local voodoo priestess accused of the crime.  Nima and her law firm buddy Salinger follow an investigative trail that includes credible eyewitness accounts of a zombie committing the murder.  I won't be a spoiler and reveal the murderer, but I will comment that our pair of investigators follow a trail lined with many occult twists, turns and surprises before the true guilty party is revealed.  The one-shot storyline ends on a very dramatic bridge to potential future issues, as Nima receives a dramatic vision of her partner Salinger shooting her sometime in the future.

      This Madame X comic book is a very entertaining "what if?" reinterpretation of the traditional Madame Xanadu storyverse that succeeds for a few reasons.  First, I liked the "fallen angel" concept of Madame X, with her living as a down-and-out former superbeing/celebrity, going from nationally-renowned talk show guest/soothsayer to quietly rebuilding her life in a new town as a low-level staffer at a law firm.  The reason for her stumble in life is also very relevent to today's popular culture, as Madame X lost her fortune in a lawsuit filed by a billionaire who took offense to a Madame X prediction on his fate.  Secondly, the creative team does a great job of unfolding the plotline against the occult/voodoo background of New Orleans.  Naturally, the whole Madame X character concept fits perfectly with the spookiness of this city and results in a colorful story setting.  And third, the murder mystery element blends very nicely into this story. The occult stuff aside, the basic "whodunit" of the story is well-masked in mystery and takes some nice twists and turns to a satisfying reveal of the guilty party.

     Its clear from the dramatic nature of the story's cliffhanger ending that the creative team would like to see this one-shot title continue as a multi-issue story arc, if not a monthly regular comic book title.  Based on the high quality of the plot, artwork and the fun reinterpretation of our heroine's traditional storyverse, Madame X deserves her shot at a DC universe publishing lifeline.  So a thumbs-up positive review recommendation is well-deserved for all good DC readers to enjoy this one-shot comic book.  And here's hoping that someone at DC throws Madame X that publishing lifeline and hauls her to the safety of some future issues of the occult adventures of Nima/Madame X!

Mara #1
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Brian Wood: Writer
Ming Doyle & Jordie Bellaire: Art

     Image Comics recently published issue #1 of a six-issue limited comic series entitled Mara.  As with many Image titles, this is a creator-owned project, with the creators being A-list writer Brian Wood and artists Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire.  For the uninitiated, Brian Wood is an acclaimed comic book writer known for writing scripts and creating storyverses with strong characters and dialogue on par with non-comic book fiction such as high quality novels and television series.  Among his many achievements is the award-winning and long-running DMZ comic book title.  During the past year, I wrote a favorable review of his interesting science fiction eco-adventure comic book series entitled The Massive.

      Issue #1 of Mara introduces the science fiction theme of this limited edition series.  A futuristic, highly urbanized Earth society has evolved its obsessions with world-wide sports and military action/endless warring to unheard-of heights.  The Number One celebrity in this environment is Mara, a 17-year-old teen who sits at the very top of this planetary frenzy as the world's best team volleyball star.  Not much action occurs in this kick-off issue; instead, via detailed narrative and accompanying scenes, we learn the details of Mara's ultra sports celebrity life, with the entire world endlessly watching her every public move via world-wide television.  The tale takes an unexpected turn in a concluding bridge to next month's issue, as Mara collapses during the live broadcast of one of her games and its discovered that she exhibited a weird power in which with Flash-like speed she had zoomed to the other side of the volleyball court and tapped the ball in the other team's field of play.

      I'll get right to it: this is one bizarre stinkeroo of a comic book, for so many reasons.  But for the sake of our sanity, I'll only comment on four basic flaws.  First, the art is creepily primitive and mannequin-like, with everyone depicted with the same stiff, overserious facial expression in every single panel of the comic book.  Secondly, the basic story concepts of this plot are illogical and ridiculous, even for the laid-back credibility of a fictionalized comic book reality.  I just can't buy into for one comic book reading second the concept of the entire planet going gaga over team volleyball and having the entire planet's society in a constant hyper-excited state about it all.  Third, the brief allusions to worldwide militarism being elevated to an equal pinnacle with the volleyball obsession are also weak and feel flat.  And fourth, the reveal of Mara's Flash-like power is extremely confusing. Is she using her ultra-fast powers to zip around the court and tank her opponents volleyball shots, or what? Is she aware of her behavior or is it an involuntary subconscious action?  From the poor presentation of this story scene, one just can't tell what exactly is going-on with this power.

     Even more disappointing is the unpleasant realization that this poorly-executed concept came from the pen of Brian Wood, who seems to have excelled in everything, and I mean everything, that he's previously written by presenting the reader with emotionally-riveting and realistic stories on the human condition.  It's just so unexpected to see his writing stumble so badly in this instance. On the plus side, I guess it just shows that he's as human as the rest of us and is bound to trip-up once in awhile.  On the negative side, it reaffirms for me the downside of the creator-owned concept of comic book publishing. Once in awhile the occasional dud will shove a more deserving concept out of the way, as a publisher gambles that fans of an acclaimed creator will accept even said creator's flawed, D-list ideas and products.  I've called this the "Stan Lee effect" in previous reviews and also chided Alan Moore and Warren Ellis for taking this occasional marketing misstep, with Brian Wood now joining this growing list.

     But enough venting about this disappointment.  To summarize: avoid this unentertaining, stiff failure of a comic book concept and instead enjoy Brian Wood at his best with any of the other many Brian Wood-scripted comic book titles, all available on the new issue shelves and in the back issue comic book bins at That's Entertainment.

Spaceknights #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jim Starlin & Chris Batista: Writers
Chris Batista: Pencils
Chip Wallace: Inks

     Marvel Comics has recently re-booted its out-of-print Spaceknights comic book concept with a new 3-issue limited series.  Since all three issues are currently on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, I decided to review issue #1 to get a feel for this series from its beginning.  Spaceknights was created in 1979 as a tie-in for the Parker Brothers launch of their Rom, Spaceknight action figure toy.  Baby boomers may also recall the ROM comic book title of that era.  The Spaceknights are good cyborg warriors from the planet Galador who protect the universe fom the evil Dire Wraiths.  Much of the Spaceknights storyverse, from the names of individual spaceknights to the plot stylings, is a science fiction updating of the fictional tale of Camelot.  This latest Spaceknights series is scripted by A-list veteran writer Jim Starlin in partnership with Chris Batista, with art by Chris Batista and inks by Chip Wallace.

     Issue #1 actually presents two story segments in this multi-issue story arc, each of which could standalone as a full-length comic book issue.  This storyverse introduces readers to a new, younger generation of Spaceknights.  Two subplots interweave throughout the twin tales.  When Galador's leader The Prime Director is killed in off-world battle, its up to his oldest son Balin to gather-up the younger generation of new Spaceknights and go off to battle the bad aliens.  Through the journey to the off-world battle site and the early stages of the fight itself, we're introduced to a few older generation holdovers from previous Spaceknight comics along with the large group of young rookies.  A second subplot interweaves political intrigue and family strife into the storyline.  We learn that Balin is a nasty, cocky jerk who is rapidly failing as a new young leader of both his friends and his society, while his nicer young brother Tristan embodies the true values for which the Spaceknights crave for a leader.  There's also a strong political thriller element in this storyline, as its revealed that a trusted advisor to the Galador royal family is the deceitful mastermind behind the off-world strife, with the goal of destroying the royal family and becoming the new dictatorial ruler of Galador.  These sub-plot details all come together in a climactic battle scene in which a key Spaceknight is killed and good guy Tristan is blamed by the entire group for not saving his warrior partner's life.

     This is a pretty decent comic book return for this 1980's-era comic book series.  There's more storytelling substance to this multi-issue tale than one might expect for a storyverse based on a line of action figure toys.  Veteran writer Jim Starlin brings his skill and experience to the task by crafting a tale that's rich with the mix of action-adventure, political intrigue and personal relationship soap opera details for which the Arthurian legend stories are well-known for.  I particularly liked the depth of character development of the Spaceknights as well as their personal interactions with each other.  There are enough elements of romance, personality conflicts and shifting policial alliances packed into this extra-length comic book to script half a season of a television soap opera or thriller series.  Specific elements of the Arthurian legend are also nicely incorporated into this science fiction storyline, including an updating of the King Arthur sword-in-the-stone challenge, which I won't spoil with any review details.

     I also liked the mixing into the tale of two key characters from the previous generation of Spaceknights, now middle-aged in this title re-boot.  Earth girl Brandy Clark is the older, now-widowed ruler of Galador, struggling to lead her people in the interplanetary crisis, while Spaceknight Val/Sentry is a wise mentor to the young newbies, also struggling to contain the recklessness of emerging young leader Balin.  On a final review note, there's a minor but interesting story element throughout issue #1 of Galador's leader Brandy Clark facing growing prejudice from her people due to her roots as a native of Earth.  It introduces the real world issue of discrimination into this science fiction storyverse and it should be interesting to see how the creative team explores this subject as the series progresses.

     So a well-deserved positive review recommendation for this return of a fan favorite galactic adventuring series that blends old King Arthur fable elements with modern-day galactic science fiction storytelling.  And we're certainly getting our money's worth with a comic book that packs two full-length story segments into each issue for the standard price of a one-story comic book.  So get on down to That's Entertainment and enjoy this double-story comic for the price of one!
The Phantom Stranger #4
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Dan Didio & J.M. Dematteis: Writers
Brent Anderson: Pencils
Philip Tan & Rob Hunter: Inks
Ulises Arreola: Colors

     DC Comics is up to issue #4 of its Phantom Stranger re-boot within "The New 52" storyverse event.  This past September, I wrote a positive review of issue #0 in this series, which creatively filled-in some origin elements for DC's magical man of mystery, establishing his biblical origin as Judas Iscariot, having been sentenced by a Council of Wizards along with the fabled character Pandora to walk the Earth trying to make amends for their past sins.  This series also assigns the Stranger with blame for the origins of The Spectre, thereby making the two character's arch enemies of each other.  The current title is scripted by veteran A-list writer Dan Didio in partnership with J.M. Dematteis with pencils by Brent Anderson, inks by Philip Tan and Rob Hunter, and colors by Ulises Arreola.

     The issue #4 story segment is entitled "Abduction" and pits the Stranger against the Justice League Dark.  The plot begins the Stranger living a surprising secret lifestyle as a suburban husband and dad to two small children.  On a routine mall shopping trip with his wife, he's abducted to a meeting with the aforementioned Justice League Dark.  The bulk of the issue details a lengthy, mostly verbal confrontation between our hero and the League, in which League leader John Constantine pulls out all the stops in trying to get the Starnger to join the League in their latest mission against big bad evil doings.  Without being a detail spoiler, after the unsuccessful recruitment effort, the Stranger returns to his secret life to find his family abducted out of the timestream.  The issue ends in a very dramatic bridge to next month's story segment, as Pandora arrives and claims that the abduction is The Spectre's latest move against the duo.

     This is one of the better of the many New 52 titles currently out on the new issues shelves.  Led by veteran writer Dan Didio, the creative team succeeds in all regards with this tale, including beautiful artwork, an interesting plot and entertaining story details. Four story elements most intrigued me in this issue.  The first is the "take-no-prisoners" personality of League leader Constantine, who plays a sharp and deadly verbal game with the Stranger in his recruitment effort, resulting in some twists that are sure to pit this tough pair against each other again very soon in this storyline.  Secondly, I enjoyed reading of the unexpected domestic side of the Stranger, in which he attempts to regain a semblance of a normal human life with his secret family.  I haven't been a regular reader of this title so I don't know about previous developments in this sub-plot, but the future possibilities of this storythread could hold some major storytelling potential.  Third, the cameos of among all of the various Justice League Dark members are both interesting and well-balanced in the space of a one-issue story segment.

     The fourth and final noteworthy story element is the bigger plotline here, that of the growing storm of confrontation pitting The Phantom Stranger and Pandora versus the omni-powerful Spectre.  The creative team is building a steady level of tension as the clouds gather for this upcoming mystical war, with the stakes and hatred ratcheting upward with the kidnapping of the Stranger's innocent family members.  All in all, this title is currently presenting a very interesting and potentially significant new line of fictional history within the DC storyverse.  So my review advice is to check-out the current issue #4, then do what I plan to do and backtrack to the previous issues before heading deeper into this storyline with upcoming monthly issues of The Phantom Stranger.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to e-mail us with your proposal for a wacky pair-up of two dissimilar comic book characters, along the lines of the recent Mars Attacks Popeye comic book.  My example suggestion was Deadpool versus My Little Pony (yeesh!).  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Gregory Goding, who offers-up the idea of pitting JarJar Binks against Sauron.  Gregory tells us "JarJar is annoying, never shuts up and looks like he would make a hilarious squishing sound if hit with a large blunt object.  Sauron is more the strong, silent ultimate badass who wields large blunt objects.  I think it has potential."  Here's hoping that we all get to see the annoying JarJar Binks get his due in Gregory's dream comic book match-up.  Congrats to Gregory who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges have decreed that we offer-up to you this week the following television trivia question.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, February 6 with the answer to the following question:  What 1950's television Western series star is a direct descendent of famous frontiersman Daniel Boone?  In the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be chosen via a roll of the dice from among the correct entries.  Please note that our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store on-going specials, only.

That's all for now, so have two great NHL-watching (welcome back, Bruins!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, February 8 Here In Bongo Congo!

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